What’s in a name? : Indiana Federal Court Rejects Religious Discrimination Against Teachers Over Use Of Students’ Preferred Names | Husch Blackwell LLP



John Kluge, former music and orchestra teacher at Brownsburg Community School Corporation (“BCSC”) was reportedly forced to resign after refusing to refer to transgender students by names chosen by students, their parents and caregivers health due to the religious objections. Kluge identified himself as a Christian and claimed that referring to students by their preferred names “would encourage students to transgender” and “promote gender dysphoria”, which goes against his religious beliefs that “God created mankind as male or female.” Initially, BCSC gave Kluge the option to refer to students using only their last name, but ultimately this accommodation was rescinded after several complaints were filed by other teachers, students and parents regarding the negative impacts. of this practice on transgender students.

Kluge filed a motion for partial summary judgment, seeking judgment in his favor on his failure to accommodate, and the BCSC filed a counterclaim for summary judgment seeking judgment in his favor on both claims. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana sided with the school district. In its order, the Court found that Kluge had established a prima facie case of discrimination, but that the uncontested evidence also demonstrated that accommodation based solely on last name caused undue hardship for BCSC – primarily because the use by Kluge surnames hampered BCSC’s ability to provide education to all students and conflicted with its policy of creating a safe and supportive environment for all students. The Court also noted that “continuing to provide Mr. Kluge with an accommodation that gave rise to complaints that transgender students felt targeted and dehumanized could have subjected the BCSC to legal action for discrimination under the title. IX brought by a transgender student ”. According to the Court, the increased risk of liability was also undue hardship which Title VII did not require the BCSC to bear.

With respect to Kluge’s retaliatory claim, the court determined that the surname-only arrangement was withdrawn due to complaints causing undue hardship, and not because of any hostility to beliefs. nuns of Kluge or because of his request for accommodation.

The court concluded, “So what’s in a name? The Court noted that it “is ill-equipped to answer this question definitively”, but for the reasons it set out in its order, it concluded that a “name is of sufficient importance to overcome the obligation of a public school corporation to accommodate the needs of a teacher. sincerely hold religious beliefs against a policy that requires staff to use preferred names of transgender students when supported by a parent and health care provider.

What does this mean to you?

The ruling will set a compelling precedent for district courts across the country arguing similar issues following rulings affirming the rights of transgender people such as Bostock and Grimm. Therefore, school districts must be prepared to address the concerns of teachers and staff regarding their sincere religious beliefs related to LGBTQIA + people, while ensuring that their policies and procedures align with these historic cases.

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